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Uruguay’s first transgender senator vows to bolster LGBT rights

BOGOTA (Thomson Reuters Foundation)

Michelle Suarez, Uruguay’s first transgender senator, is already considered elderly. She has made it to 34 – a rarity in a country where transgender people tend to die young.

A veteran trailblazer for LGBT rights, she helped draft a bill that legalized same-sex marriage in 2013 and became the first transgender person to go to university in Uruguay.

Suarez has broken many barriers, yet it is perhaps her age that is the most salient part of her fight.

Most transgender women in Uruguay, a small South American nation of 3.5 million people, don’t get to live that long. “In Uruguay, a citizen has a life expectancy of more than 70 years but trans women have a life expectancy of 35,” said Suarez, who took her seat in the senate this month.

Put down by society and shunned by their families, many transgender people are forced to drop out of school and find it difficult to get a job and access health services.

To survive, many end up on the streets as sex workers where they face violence, Suarez said.

“Trans women sex workers are exposed to many situations of violence .. they face an enormous amount of aggression,” Suarez told the Thomson Reuters Foundation in a telephone interview.

“All this means to be a woman, to be transgender – together with being poor and a sex worker – affects health and, in general, cuts life expectancy for trans women practically by half.”

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